Gatos, perros, and more

Here are nine picture books for younger readers and listeners ranging from the silly to the serious and celebrating Latinidad. See also Spanish Is the Language of My Family (from our Back-to-School issue of Notes from the Horn Book). September 15–October 15 is National Hispanic Heritage Latine/x Heritage Month. Find additional books, articles, interviews, and more from the Horn Book here

Breaking to the Beat! 
by Linda J. Acevedo; illus. by Frank Morrison 
Primary, Intermediate    Lee & Low    32 pp. 
5/23    9781643796390    $19.95 

Acevedo and Morrison provide an engaging, gritty, urban retrospective on the role young people played in establishing break dancing and hip-hop. Set in the Bronx in the 1970s, the story follows Manolo, a “shy Puerto Rican boy who soaked up every bold beat of the conga.” Although not a biography, Acevedo’s work reads like one because, as she explains in the afterword, the character of Manolo is a composite of many real-life young dancers. As Manolo grows, he admires the dances of the b-boys and b-girls (“B stands for BREAK”) and closely follows the “battles,” dance-offs with crowds of teens who moved, grooved, and cheered on their favorites. Although he despairs of ever being good at it, he practices until his “flops turned into flips” and his “goofs into glides.” But as his talent soars (he acquires the nickname “Kid Flex” because he’s so limber), the neighborhood declines: burned-out buildings and broken windows abound as garbage and vandalism fill the streets. Manolo forms a dance crew, the Borinquén Breakers, and a (real-life) white photographer, Henry Chalfant, captures their talent, opening doors to recognition, movie deals, and other markers of fame. This lusciously illustrated picture book, with Morrison’s signature images of characters with elongated arms and legs, effectively captures Manolo’s initial hesitancy and later verve, bravado, and dizzyingly bodacious moves. A wonderful story of an important artistic form that, like jazz, emerged from Black and Brown communities. MICHELLE H. MARTIN 

My Dog Just Speaks Spanish 
by Andrea Cáceres; illus. by the author 
Preschool, Primary    Candlewick    32 pp. 
5/23    9781536222784    $17.99 
e-book ed.  9781536232080    $17.99 
Spanish ed.  9781536229882    $17.99 

Aurora learned English when she came to the United States, but Nena, her cute brown and white spaniel, only ­understands commands given in ­Spanish. “She doesn’t know WAIT, but she knows ESPERA.” At the dog park, when someone throws a ball and yells “‘FETCH’…Nena joins in only when Aurora yells ‘¡BÚSCALA!’” While Aurora helps Nena navigate the English-speaking world outside, she communicates with Nena in Spanish at home. The illustrations show household objects tagged with yellow sticky notes displaying both English and Spanish words. This book gently explores the idea of second-language acquisition, children who translate for others, and code switching, suggesting patience with those who learn at different speeds. “Aurora is not concerned that Nena doesn’t know English yet, because she will always be there to help.” Colorful, happy digitally rendered illustrations show the closeness between girl and dog, and Nena’s friendly, affectionate nature. Concurrently published in Spanish as Mi perro solo habla español. JULIE HAKIM AZZAM 

Carina Felina 
by Carmen Agra Deedy; illus. by Henry Cole 
Primary    Scholastic    48 pp. 
8/23    9781338749168    $19.99 
Spanish ed.  9781339013183    $7.99 

In this folktale retelling, Pepe the parrot doesn’t know what he’s getting himself into when he invites his crush, Carina Felina, over for some homemade Cuban crackers. Carina, a fluffy aqua-colored feline with a Cheshire cat grin, immediately polishes off all one hundred crackers. When Pepe protests, she proclaims, “Why, I’m Carina Felina! / I do what I like and / I eat what I wish. / Step out of my way, / or be my next dish!” and snarfs him down too. Carina then struts through town, eating anyone who doesn’t heed her warning. She grows comically larger with every meal, and the cartoonlike illustrations show the people and animals inside her belly. The calamity finally stops when two cangrejos — crabs who have been watching the whole time — goad her into eating them. In her stomach they declare, “¡Basta! Enough!” They snip themselves and everyone else free, and Carina is left to stitch herself up. Deedy’s catchy text is clever through the final playfully gruesome scene. Cole emphasizes the humor in the tale with pencil and digital illustrations that feature expressive townsfolk and animals. Storytime listeners will be chanting along with Carina’s refrain by her second snack and will enjoy going back to search for the two cangrejos in each encounter. Back matter includes information about the folktale (told in many cultures), a glossary of Spanish words, and a recipe for Cuban crackers — bake at your own risk. Will be published in a Spanish paperback edition in September 2023 as El cuento de Carina Felina. MONICA DE LOS REYES 

Gato Guapo 
by Anika Aldamuy Denise; illus. by Zara González Hoang 
Preschool    Harper/HarperCollins    40 pp. 
2/23    9780063062665    $17.99 

“His miau miau was sweet / as he pranced down the street, / calling, ‘¡Oye! ¿Qué pasó, papo?’” This lighthearted counting book, written in a smooth blend of Spanish and English, follows Gato Guapo and nine kitten hermanitos on a jaunt through town. When Gato Guapo stops to count the kittens, however, he discovers numero nueve is missing: “OH NO! Where’s Rodrigo?” A page-turn reveals “silly Rodrigo” sporting Gato Guapo’s sunglasses and declaring, “¡Yo soy Gato Guapo!” With each counting attempt, from nueve down to dos, another kitten disappears (we never see where), always popping up on the following spread wearing an article of dapper clothing and claiming to be Gato Guapo. Finally, with just “one lonely gatito” left, Gato Guapo realizes: “Who took all my clothes?” Playful drawings, rendered ­digitally from watercolor and colored pencil, provide a clever and engaging backdrop that features other animal ­characters and Spanish vocabulary. A list of Spanish words and phrases is appended. MONICA DE LOS REYES 

Water Day 
by Margarita Engle; illus. by Olivia Sua 
Primary    Atheneum    40 pp. 
8/23    9781665918718    $18.99 
e-book ed.  9781665918725    $10.99 
Spanish ed.  9781665926959    $18.99 

“Water days are busy days, grateful, laughing, thirsty days.” A young girl tells of her Cuban neighborhood’s experience of the “water man’s” once-every-five-days visit to deliver water for all the residents’ needs. Engle’s narrator shares all parts of the process breezily, from the lyrical way Bisabuelita talks to her fruit trees, telling them “she’ll soon get their toes wet,” to less pleasant realities like having to wait “to flush the stinky toilet. Ick.” The “fish lady” bikes into town next and lets the girl add mosquito larvae–eating fish to the family’s water supply, helping to prevent the spread of disease. Sua’s painted cut-paper illustrations in a rich pastel color palette are as inviting as the girl’s cheerful voice, which grows somber when recounting Bisabuelita’s memories about how the neighborhood’s water has dried up since she was young. The book culminates with an image of the ­family using their replenished water and a line that sums up how this tightly knit group views water day: “a river of joy that flows for my whole thirsty familia.” Back matter includes an author’s note about Engle’s inspiration for the story, as well as information on the global water crisis and mosquitofish. MONICA DE LOS REYES 

Still Dreaming / Seguimos soñando 
by Claudia Guadalupe Martínez; illus. by Magdalena Mora; trans. into Spanish by Luis Humberto Crosthwaite 
Primary    Children’s/Lee & Low   40 pp. 
10/22    9780892394340    $20.95 
e-book ed.  9780892394777    $20.95 

This book’s bilingual text tells the story of a young child and his parents as they leave the United States for Mexico during the repatriation process in the 1930s — an overlooked part of U.S. history. The child’s family—mother and son were born in the United States; Papá was born in Mexico — harvests pecans in Texas until new immigration policies and the threat of deportation force them to move to Mexico to keep their family together. Martínez’s straightforward prose centers the boy’s feelings of sadness, uncertainty, and hope as he leaves his home behind for a place he and Mamá only know about from Papá’s stories. The cool colors of Mora’s dreamlike gouache, ink, and digital illustrations offer reassurance as the family drives toward their future. An appended author’s note details a difficult history of forced migration shared by many, while the story emphasizes the importance of family and ultimately feels optimistic. Butterflies — a contemporary symbol of the immigrants’ rights movement — are included on most pages. This motif and the author’s note contextualize the historically set narrative within the continued struggle for immigrants’ rights. MONICA DE LOS REYES 

Martina Has Too Many Tías 
by Emma Otheguy; illus. by Sara Palacios 
Primary    Atheneum    40 pp. 
6/23    9781534445369    $18.99 
e-book ed.  9781534445376    $10.99 
Spanish ed.  9781534445840    $18.99 

In this expert picture-book riff on the classic Caribbean folktale “La Cucaracha Martina,” Otheguy celebrates big families with room for all types of dispositions. Introverted, story-loving Martina is overwhelmed by the noise from her three boisterous tías, who have come for a visit and a fiesta. With a pounding headache, Martina slips away, falls into a pot of bubbling guava fruit, and is transported to a warm island, illustrated in calming blues. On the island, she interacts with various animals until she finds the quiet ratoncito. In the end, Martina misses her loud family and makes her way back to her tías. She shares the story of her adventure, and her tías listen attentively. Colorful collages, digitally rendered, bring a sense of vibrancy. Palacios’s visual representation of the cacophony of sounds in the overlays — in particular the page with all three tías — is bright and loud; you can feel the noise pop off the page. An author’s note explains the folktale tie-in and explores the trope of the loud Latina. YESICA HURD 

My Town / Mi pueblo  
by Nicholas Solis; illus. by Luisa Uribe 
Primary    Paulsen/Penguin    32 pp. 
8/22    9780593109915    $17.99 
e-book ed.  9780593109922    $10.99 

This enjoyable bilingual picture book highlights cousins on each side of the U.S./Mexico border. English text narrates the U.S. (girl) cousin’s point of view, and Spanish text narrates the Mexican (boy) cousin’s. Rather than being a direct translation, the words are unique to each character; although the cousins are relating the same basic information, their stories are refreshingly authentic-sounding on their own. The text is simple enough for young bilingual readers or for anyone learning either Spanish or English, making this a great family, classroom, or library read-aloud. Uribe’s illustrations provide a depth of interest and busyness that allow viewers to fall into the pictures, looking for differences and similarities between the Mexican and U.S. towns and families shown. Uribe provides a representative balance of all colors of people on both sides of the border and within each family. In fact, sometimes it’s unclear which house/town/country pictured is which (although we see more white people on this book’s U.S. side despite most actual U.S. border towns being sixty percent Hispanic/Latine). The book does address border crossings, mentioning long lines and showing security officers and barbed wire, which comes off as realistic without being heavy-handed. LARA K. AASE 

Papá’s Magical Water-Jug Clock 
by Jesús Trejo; illus. by Eliza Kinkz 
Primary    Minerva/Astra    24 pp. 
6/23    9781662651045    $18.99 
e-book ed.  9781662651052    $11.99 

Young Jesús eagerly awaits Saturdays, when he helps his father with their family’s­ lawn service business. Papá gives him the responsibility of taking care of the water jug, claiming that it is a magical clock and when the water runs out, it’s time to go home. Hilarity ensues when Jesús doles out cups of water to three “super-old” thirsty cats, a dog in a sweater, and some peacocks, and uses lots of water to splash his face. The jug may now be empty, but Jesús and Papá can’t yet go home: it’s only ten thirty in the morning, and they still have eleven more houses to visit. Papá confesses that the water jug is not a magical clock after all; he had tried to make the day go more quickly by making the jug into a game. But as Jesús tells Papá, they can have fun in other ways. The protagonist’s exuberance shines through in his observations of the world. Kinkz’s art — in “pencil, ink, watercolor, gouache, crayons, and a few drops of queso” — brings this story to life. The colors are bright; the line drawings are childlike and full of zany energy. The garden-themed luchador endpapers will garner lots of laughs. This book mixes humor with the touching bond between a son and his papá, and a gentle message­ about the preciousness of water as a resource. YESICA HURD 

From the September 2023 issue of Notes from the Horn Book.

Be the first reader to comment.

Comment Policy:
  • Be respectful, and do not attack the author, people mentioned in the article, or other commenters. Take on the idea, not the messenger.
  • Don't use obscene, profane, or vulgar language.
  • Stay on point. Comments that stray from the topic at hand may be deleted.
  • Comments may be republished in print, online, or other forms of media.
  • If you see something objectionable, please let us know. Once a comment has been flagged, a staff member will investigate.



We are currently offering this content for free. Sign up now to activate your personal profile, where you can save articles for future viewing.